ST. LOUIS -- For one night, right-hander James McDonald looked like the James McDonald of the first half of the season.
McDonald, who starred in the first half but has stumbled in the second, earned his 11th win of the season as the Pirates beat the Cardinals, 2-1, Friday night at Busch Stadium.
McDonald moved quickly and cleanly through the Cardinals lineup -- locating his fastball and getting hitters to chase his offspeed pitches.
After six sour outings, McDonald had a host of mental issues he was dealing with, so he chose to block all of it out.
"I feel like I just went out there and didn't really have any thoughts," McDonald said. "I didn't try to think 'Why this?' or 'Why that?'"
Before he took the mound, fellow starter A.J. Burnett grabbed his attention and gave him two words of advice: Have fun.
"So I went out there and tried to have fun and play baseball instead of making it something more difficult than it is," McDonald said.
He pitched six scoreless innings and surrendered only two hits in his best outing of the second half. McDonald struck out seven and walked three. He threw 87 pitches, 54 for strikes, before leaving the game in the sixth inning for a pinch-hitter.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said one reason he pulled McDonald from the game in the sixth was so that he could preserve his strong outing.
"This was a huge step forward for us," Hurdle said. "We're going to need him to get something done this year, I think."
McDonald entered the game having allowed 30 runs in 31 innings in his past six outings, five of which were eventual losses. His second half ERA was 8.71; he entered the All-Star break with a 2.37 ERA.
St. Louis starter Jake Westbrook allowed two runs, one earned, on six hits in 72/3 innings. It was his ninth loss of the season and third at the hands of the Pirates.
The Pirates scored both runs without an RBI, the first time they won a game without an RBI since beating the Toronto Blue Jays, 1-0, June 20, 2008.
The Pirates (66-53) grabbed a 2-0 lead in the fourth as a result of some sloppy play on the field by the Cardinals (64-55). A leadoff walk and two singles loaded the bases with no outs, but the Pirates wouldn't find another hit the rest of the inning.
Instead, Westbrook threw a wild pitch, which allowed Travis Snider to score, and catcher Tony Cruz allowed a passed ball, which allowed Andrew McCutchen to score. The Cardinals also committed an error in the inning.
But the Pirates could not add to the lead. Pedro Alvarez hit into a fielder's choice when Garrett Jones was caught between third and home on a ground ball. Clint Barmes followed Alvarez by grounding into a double play.
"A couple balls got by the catcher," Hurdle said. "We had opportunities to add on, and we didn't do that. We'll take what we can get."
Jason Grilli retired all three batters he faced in the eighth, striking out two for his 27th hold of the season, the most in the National League. Joel Hanrahan walked a batter but pitched a hitless ninth to pick up his 34th save of the season, also the most in the NL.
Pirates reliever Chris Resop got into trouble in the seventh when he allowed a single and a double. Resop and Juan Cruz combined to retire the next three batters, but not before Carlos Beltran crossed home to halve the Pirates lead, 2-1.
McDonald held the Cardinals hitless until one out in the fourth, when Allen Craig lined a double to left.
Michael Sanserino: email@example.com, 412-263-1722 or on Twitter @msanserino. First Published August 18, 2012 4:00 AM